Authors: R. L. Stine
I felt a cold chill run down my back. Mrs. Rudolph looked so frightened.
“What's wr-wrong?” I stammered.
She pointed up to the sky. “Can you help me?”
“Huh?” I followed her gaze. It took me a while to realize she was pointing up to a tree branch, not to the sky.
“It's Muttly, my cat,” Mrs. Rudolph said, shielding her eyes from the sun with one hand, still pointing with the other.
“I see him,” Hat said. “On that branch. The bent one.”
“I don't know how he got out of the house,” Mrs. Rudolph said. “He never climbs trees. Somehow he got up there, and he can't get down.”
I stared up into the thick leaves. Yep. There was Muttly. Pretty high up. Making frightened yowling sounds and pawing at the slender tree branch.
We all stood staring up at the frightened cat.
Suddenly I felt Mrs. Rudolph's hand on my shoulder. “Can you climb up and get him, Eddie?”
I swallowed hard. I'm not the best tree climber in the world. In fact, I
climbing trees. I always cut my hands on the bark or scrape the skin off my stomach or something.
“Please hurry,” Mrs. Rudolph pleaded. “Muttly's so scared. He â he's going to fall.”
if he falls! Aren't cats supposed to have nine lives?
That's what I thought. But I didn't say that to Mrs. Rudolph.
Instead, I stammered something about how high up he was.
“You're good at climbing trees, aren't you?” Mrs. Rudolph said. “I mean, all boys your age climb trees, don't they?” Her eyes studied me. She had a strong look of disapproval on her face.
She thinks I'm a chicken
, I realized.
If I don't climb the tree and rescue her stupid cat, she'll tell my mom what a weakling I am. The word will be out all over the neighborhood: Mrs. Rudolph asked Eddie for help, and he just stood there like a coward, making lame excuses.
“I'm a little afraid of heights,” I confessed.
“Go ahead, Eddie,” Hat urged. “You can do it.” Some friend.
Above us, the cat yowled loudly. He sounded like a baby crying. His tail stood stiffly straight up in the air.
“You can do it, Eddie,” Charlene said, staring up at the cat.
“Please hurry,” Mrs. Rudolph pleaded. “My kids will be heartbroken if anything happens to Muttly.”
I hesitated, gazing up the long, rough-barked trunk.
The cat yowled again.
I saw the branch tremble. I saw the cat's legs scrabble frantically as he lost his grip.
Then I heard the cat
as he started to fall.
We all screamed.
The branch bobbed up and down. The cat clung to the branch with his front paws. His back legs kicked the air furiously.
“Oh no oh no oh no!” Mrs. Rudolph chanted, covering her eyes with one hand.
The cat yowled in terror.
Somehow he managed to pull himself back up onto the shaking tree branch. Then he cried again, frightened, human-sounding cries.
Mrs. Rudolph lowered her hand from her eyes. She stared disgustedly at me. “I guess I'd better call the fire department.”
I knew I should grab onto the tree trunk and pull myself up. But I really am afraid of heights. I'm just not a good climber.
With an exasperated sigh, Mrs. Rudolph turned and started jogging to her house. She stopped when we heard a girl's voice cry out.
“Hey â what's the problem?”
Courtney rolled onto the sidewalk on her sleek red racing bike. She hopped off and let the bike fall to the ground. She was wearing white denim overalls over a bright yellow T-shirt.
“What's going on, guys?” she asked, hurrying up to us.
“My cat â” Mrs. Rudolph said, pointing up to the tree.
The cat yowled in panic.
Courtney gazed up to the bobbing branch.
“I'll get him down,” Courtney said. She grabbed the tree trunk and began shinnying up.
The cat meowed and nearly slipped again.
Courtney climbed quickly, easily, wrapping her legs around the trunk, pulling herself up with both hands.
A few seconds later, she made her way onto the branch, grabbed the cat around the stomach with one hand, and pulled him close to her body. Then she skillfully lowered herself to the ground.
“Here's the poor kitty,” Courtney said, smoothing the cat's fur, petting it gently. She handed him to Mrs. Rudolph. Courtney's white denims and yellow T-shirt were smeared with dirt and bits of dark bark. She had pieces of green leaves in her blond hair.
“Oh, thank you,” Mrs. Rudolph gushed, wrapping the still mewing cat in her arms. “Thank you so much, dear. You were so wonderful.”
Courtney brushed some of the dirt off her overalls. “I like climbing trees,” she told Mrs. Rudolph. “It's really fun.”
Mrs. Rudolph turned her gaze to me, and her smile quickly faded. “I'm glad
in this neighborhood is brave,” she said, making a disgusted face. She thanked Courtney again, then turned and carried the cat into the house.
I felt so bad. I wanted to sink into the ground with the worms. I wanted to disappear and never be seen again.
But there I was, standing with my hands shoved in my jeans pockets.
And there was Courtney, grinning at me. Gloating. Rubbing it in with that smug look on her face.
Hat, Molly, and Charlene didn't say a word. When I looked at them, they avoided my eyes. I knew they were embarrassed for me. And angry that Courtney had made us all look bad again.
Courtney picked up her bike and started walking it away. She threw her leg over the bar and climbed onto the seat. Then she suddenly turned back to me.
“Hey, Eddie â was it
who put that dumb snake in my lunch?”
“Of course not!” I exclaimed. I kicked the grass with one sneaker.
She continued to stare at me, her blue eyes studying my face.
I knew I was blushing. I could feel my cheeks grow hot. But there was nothing I could do about it.
“I thought maybe it was you,” Courtney said, tossing her hair behind her shoulder. “I thought maybe you were trying to pay me back. You know. For the green snake thing.”
“No way,” I muttered. “No way, Courtney.”
My three friends shifted uncomfortably. Hat started humming some song.
Finally, Courtney raised her feet to the pedals and rode off down the street.
to find a way to scare her,” I said through clenched teeth as soon as she had ridden out of sight. “We've just
“How about a live tarantula down her back?” Hat suggested.
The plan was simple.
Mr. Dollinger, the science teacher, kept two tarantulas in a cage in the second-floor science lab.
Hat and I would sneak into the science lab after school on Thursday. We would borrow one of the tarantulas and hide it in my locker overnight.
The next morning, we all had gym right after morning meeting. There is a narrow balcony over the gym floor where equipment is stored. Hat and I would sneak up onto the balcony with the tarantula.
Then Molly and Charlene would start talking to Courtney and get her to stand under the balcony. When Courtney was in position under the balcony, one of us would drop the tarantula onto Courtney's head.
Then she'd scream and howl, and the tarantula would get tangled in her hair, and she wouldn't be
able to get it out, so she'd scream some more and go totally ballistic, and we'd all have a good laugh.
A simple plan.
And one we were sure would work.
What could go wrong?
Thursday after school, Molly and Charlene wished us luck. Hat and I went into the shop room and pretended to be working on our wood projects. Actually, we were waiting for all the kids to leave the school building.
Pretty soon it was silent out in the hall. I poked my head out the shop door. Empty.
“Okay, Hat,” I whispered, motioning for him to follow me. “Let's get this over with.”
We crept out into the hall. Our shoes scraped noisily against the hard tile floor. The halls at school are kind of creepy when everyone has left and it's so quiet.
We passed by the teachers' lounge near the front stairway. The door was open a crack, and I could hear some kind of teachers' meeting going on.
, I told myself.
If the teachers are all meeting downstairs, we will have the science lab to ourselves.
Hat and I hurried up the front stairs. We leaned on the banister and tried to move as silently as we could.
The science lab is at the end of the hall on the second floor. We passed by a couple of eighth graders we didn't know. But we didn't see anyone else. There didn't seem to be any teachers up there. They were probably all at the meeting.
Hat and I peeked into the lab. Late afternoon sunlight poured in through the windows. We had to squint down the long rows of lab tables.
“Mr. Dollinger?” I called. I just wanted to make sure he wasn't there.
We both tried to squeeze through the door at the same time, but we didn't fit. Hat laughed. His nervous, high-pitched giggle. I raised a finger to my lips, signaling for him to be quiet. I didn't want anyone to hear us.
Hat followed me down the center aisle of the long room. My heart began to thud loudly in my chest. My eyes darted around the room.
The sunlight seemed to grow even brighter. The watercolor paintings of the rain forest we had all made were hanging on the wall behind Mr. Dollinger's desk. Water dripped in one of the lab sinks to our right.
Plonk. Plonk. Plonk.
The door to the tall metal supply cabinet beside Mr. Dollinger's desk had been left open. I pointed it out to Hat. “That probably means he's coming back up here after the teachers' meeting,” I whispered.
Mr. Dollinger is a neat freak. He wouldn't leave a supply closet open overnight.
Hat gave me a shove. “We'd better hurry.”
“Don't push me,” I grumbled.
We made our way to the tarantula cage, on a metal table against the wall. It was actually a rectangular plywood box with a wire mesh top.
A loud crash made me stop a few feet from the cage. I gasped and turned to Hat. “What was that?”
The sound repeated. We both realized it was a venetian blind, blown by the wind, banging against the open window behind us.
I breathed a long sigh of relief. I stared at Hat and he stared at me. He nervously adjusted his baseball cap over his forehead. “Eddie, maybe this isn't such a good idea,” he whispered. “Maybe we should get out of here.”
I was tempted to agree with Hat and run out the door as fast as I could. But then I remembered Courtney's smug smile as she climbed down from the tree with the cat. “Let's stick to the plan,” I said.
I really wanted to scare Courtney. More than anything else in the world.
Hat and I peered down through the wire mesh at the two tarantulas. The bigger one was crawling along one end of the cage. The smaller, browner one was sitting like a lump at the other end.
“Yuck,” I said in a low voice. “They really are gross.”
Their legs were all hairy and prickly looking. Their bodies looked like disgusting brown hairy sacks.
“Let's take the big one,” Hat urged, reaching for the lid. A grin spread across his face. “It'll make a nice
when it lands on Courtney's head.”
We both laughed. Hat made some funny plopping sounds.
He lifted up the wire mesh top of the cage. He reached a hand in to grab the bigger tarantula. Then he suddenly stopped, and his grin faded.
“We've got a little problem,” he said.
“Huh? What?” I glanced nervously back to the doorway. No one there.
“What are we going to put it in?” Hat demanded.
My mouth dropped open. “Oh.”
“We forgot to bring something to put it in,” Hat said. He lowered the top of the cage. Both tarantulas were crawling slowly toward each other now.
“Yeah. Well, we need a bag or something,” I said. My eyes searched the tabletops.
“A bag isn't any good,” Hat replied, frowning. “Tarantulas can tear right through a bag.”
“Oh, yeah. You're right.”
“Why didn't we think of this before?” Hat demanded. “Why were we so stupid? What did we think we were doing? You can't just put a tarantula in your backpack and carry it around!”
“Calm down,” I said, motioning for him to lower his voice. I could see he was starting to panic. “There must be
to keep a tarantula in up here.”
“This is really stupid,” he grumbled. “Did you think I was going to keep it in my pocket?”
“Wait,” I told him. I hurried over to the next table and picked up a plastic container. It was the size of a cottage cheese container and had a plastic top. “This is perfect,” I whispered, holding it up to show him. “I'll just poke holes in the top.”
“Hurry,” Hat urged. He pulled off his cap and scratched his dark hair.
I poked several air holes in the lid with a pencil. Then I carried the plastic container over to the cage. “Here,” I said, handing it to him.
“You have to hold it,” Hat told me. “I can't hold the container and pick up the tarantula.”
“Oh,” I replied unhappily. I didn't want to be that close to the tarantula.
My hand started shaking a little. But I held the container close to the cage, ready to snap the lid over it as soon as Hat dropped one of the ugly creatures inside.
He pulled up the lid and reached into the cage. Hat was really brave. He wrapped his hand around
the bigger one's body and lifted it up easily. Hat didn't even hesitate or make a disgusted face.
I was impressed.
I nearly dropped the plastic container when he lowered the tarantula inside. My hand was really shaking. But I managed to hold on.
The tarantula began flopping around frantically, shooting its legs out, slipping and sliding on the slippery plastic surface.
“He doesn't like it in there,” I said in a trembling voice.
“Too bad,” Hat replied, closing the wire mesh cage lid. “Quick, Eddie â put the lid on the container.”
I scrambled to clamp the lid on.
I almost had it in place when I heard footsteps outside the door. And voices.
Hat and I both gasped as we realized Mr. Dollinger was about to walk in.